Thursday, December 19, 2013

Book Review: The Friend by Sarah Stewart (2004)

Annabelle Bernadette Clementine Dodd (“Belle”) has busy parents who are hardly ever home, but she is lucky to be good friends with the family’s housekeeper, Bea, who is always there for her, especially in a moment of great danger.

The pictures tell us what the text does not - that Belle is a Caucasian child, and Bea is an African-American woman. They also give us a wonderful sense of Bea’s personality. Her facial expressions reveal her fierce love for Belle, her amusement when Belle makes a mess, her tiredness at the end of a long day, and her heartbreaking sadness at the thought of losing Belle, as she nearly does at the end of the story. The final illustration, accompanied by a short verse, also tells us a lot about Belle as an adult, as we learn that she is looking back on her memory of the important day Bea saved her life.

There is a lot to take away from this book, and I think the richness of the language and the beauty of the story would be best understood and appreciated by kids who can discuss those aspects a little bit. What Bea does for Belle - and the fact that it remains with Belle until adulthood - is a great way to open up a conversation about heroes and true friendship, and I think the emotional ending will resonate with kids old enough to appreciate the subtlety of the book’s final pages.

Readers who have enjoyed other Sarah Stewart / David Small collaborations will find similar themes in this one. It’s also a nice read-alike for some of Patricia Polacco’s titles, where she also looks back on her childhood and remembers the adults who shaped her

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